Among life’s activities, driving is not that safe. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death for Americans 5-33 years old. And I don’t think drivers get much better after age 33 — it’s just that catastrophes like cancer and heart disease overtake motor vehicles as death-causers as we age. But at any age, death occurring from a motor vehicle crash is one of the biggest dangers we face.
In this country, we lose nearly 40,000 residents annually in traffic deaths. As individuals, our lifetime odds of becoming a victim are 80 to 1. In any given year, the odds are about 6000 to 1. Those odds may seem favorable, but they are much more threatening than other potential causes of death such as dog bites — your lifetime chances of dying from that are 151,000 to 1.
I propose we beat those odds and statistics. Good drivers can take endless steps in recognizing and reducing accident-causing behavior. I believe that we could cut the motor vehicle death rate in half if every driver avoided the three Ds: distraction, drowsiness, and drunkenness.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Institute studied 241 drivers with video and sensor-equipped vehicles during a year over 2,000,000 miles. The study illustrated the dire consequences that can occur while driving drowsy or distracted.
Over the year, there were 82 crashes, 761 near crashes, and 8295 critical incidents. Driver inattention accounted for nearly 80% of these mishaps, with cell phone use cited as the most common distraction. According to the NHTSA, both dialing and talking increase a driver’s chance of having an accident by three to four times. Drowsiness was also blamed for increasing your crash risk by a factor of four or more, and drowsiness is significantly underreported.
Timing is everything, and often things are mistimed. A study spokesperson summarized, “Drivers are often unable to predict when it is safe to look away from the road to multi-task because the situation can change abruptly leaving the driver no time to react even when looking away from the roadway for only a brief time.” For much of our driving time, we can get away with inattention and errors, so we grow complacent — when crucial situations arise during that complacency, crashes occur.
If at least one driver in any vehicle pairing is fully attentive, accident likelihood is reduced, so strive to be that driver. Pull off the road to use your cell phone. Don’t put on makeup while driving, and if an object falls to the floorboard, don’t reach for it while traveling 70 mph. If you are tired, pull over for a nap, or take a quick walk.
Avoiding distraction and drowsiness may take a bit of practice, but drunk driving should be easy to stop — simply use designated drivers and taxicabs to get around when you are drinking.
Your odds of having a motor vehicle wreck differ a bit depending on where you drive, what you drive, whether you are male or female, and if you are young or old. But the number one factor determining your driving success is your state of mind during the drive. Are you practiced, familiar with your vehicle, sober, awake, and paying full attention to the task at hand? If your answers are “yes” then you are taking steps to disprove statistics and avoid accidents.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.